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LONDON– The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee wants all British Overseas Territories (OT), including those in the Caribbean, to legitimise same sex marriages.
In addition, the Committee believes that the British government could do more than “simply support” same sex marriages in principle.
In its 44 page report titled “Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship,” the Committee said “it is time for all OTs to legalise same-sex marriage and for the UK Government to do more than simply support it in principle.
“It must be prepared to step in, as it did in 2001 when an Order in Council decriminalised homosexuality in OTs that had refused to do so. The Government should set a date by which it expects all OTs to have legalised same-sex marriage. If that deadline is not met, the Government should intervene through legislation or an Order in Council.”
The OTs in the Caribbean include Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands.
In the report, the Committee is also calling on the British government to urgently address concerns in the OTs about the issue of citizenship by descent and anomalies in the British Nationality Act that have taken too long to resolve.
“It should also consider options for removing quotas on the number of people in the OTs that can access NHS (National Health Service) services in the UK when their 32 Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the relationship own health systems cannot provide the care and treatment they need”
It said that this may be difficult from a bureaucratic point of view but it is an important test of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) ability to fight the OTs’ corner in the UK
The Committee says belongership and its equivalents are wrong, noting that “while we recognise that the OTs are small communities with unique cultural identities, we do not accept that there is any justification to deny legally-resident British Overseas Territory and UK citizens the right to vote and to hold elected office.
“This elevates one group of British people over another and risks undermining the ties that bind the UK and the OTs together in one global British family.”
It suggests that London should initiate a consultation with the elected governments of the OTs and work with them to agree a plan to ensure that there is a pathway for all resident UK and British Overseas Territory citizens to be able to vote and hold elected office in territory.
“In its response to this report the FCO should lay out a timetable for this consultation process and set a deadline for phasing out discriminatory elements of belongership, or its territory-specific equivalents”.
The OTs are a set of largely self-governing territories spanning nine time zones, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Antarctic to the Caribbean. These territories are not part of the UK and each has its own constitution, but all share a bond with the UK.
The Committee notes that for the Overseas Territories, Global Britain is a living reality and they have a valuable part to play in it.
In the report, the Committee notes that while the UK has a duty under international law to provide for the development of the OTs, it also has a responsibility to UK taxpayers to ensure that the considerable amount of money it spends on the OTs is not wasted.
“This means not only transparency and accountability in day-to-day spending, but also ensuring that capital investment is genuinely capable of delivering the Government’s long-term objective to ensure that the OTs are financially self-sufficient.
“We are seriously concerned by evidence suggesting that, despite significant capital investment in some OTs in recent years, much more remains to be done to provide infrastructure in OTs such as Montserrat, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, with no clear end in sight,” the Committee noted.
It said also the government “must offer clarity on its long-term vision for the funding of the OTs, including replacing any lost EU funding, and continuing and expanding Blue Belt funding after 2020”.
It said towards this end, the British government should explore options for a dedicated development and stimulus fund for the OTs, which would allow for the long-term, sustainable development of aid-dependent territories; help to stimulate the economies of those who need a stimulus but do not qualify for official development assistance; and help territories that are otherwise financially self-sufficient respond to crises such as hurricanes.
“This long-term vision must be based on a clear-eyed assessment of how the UK will balance the needs of individual OTs against value for money for UK taxpayers. There must be scope to ask hard questions about the long-term sustainability and viability of individual OTs without further significant levels of UK capital investment. If the Government does not think significant capital investment is possible, then it must be frank about what it will spend and towards what end.”
The Committee said also that the government “must clarify the UK’s future relationship with the European Union as soon as possible and analyse the impact on the OTs, what funding will be required to ensure the OTs are not losing out, and what input the OTs will have on the replacement of EU funding in the future”.
The report notes that some of the Overseas Territories feel that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should not be the lead UK department for the OTs.
It said that some of the countries believe that this arrangement reinforces the perception that the OTs are foreign and that it is not fit for purpose given the cross-government nature of the UK government’s modern relationship with the OTs.
“However, not all OTs agree and some feel that the FCO has long experience of working with the OTs, it has expertise in managing relationships with the countries that surround the OTs, and it deals on a daily basis with international treaty obligations relevant to the OTs.
“It is time for the UK Government to seriously engage with this issue and to do so in a fair and transparent manner. Before the next full meeting of the OTs Joint Ministerial Council the Government should therefore commission an independent review into cross-government engagement with the OTs and the FCO’s management of its responsibilities towards them.
“Drawing on international comparisons, this review should consider alternatives to the FCO and assess the costs, benefits and risks associated with moving primary responsibility for the OTs away from the FCO,” the Committee said, adding that the findings of the review should be presented to the House and shared with the elected OT governments as soon as is feasible. (CMC)